By Glen S. Ramos
PUERTO Princesa City, Palawan – As of today, a total of 8,767 concerned citizens from various parts of the country has signed the “Save Lusong Coral Gardens and World War 2 Shipwrecks! NO TO CORON-CULION BRIDGE” online petition.
The online petition intends to stop the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) from constructing the Coron – Culion Inter-island Bridge.
The online petition was filed at https://www.change.org/p/dpwh-secretary-mark-villar-save-lusong-coral-gardens-and-world-war-2-shipwrecks-no-to-coron-culion-bridge on March 9, 2021, by local divers and residents of the province who feel that the natural ecosystem and pristine marine environment in the area is in grave danger of being destroyed.
The petitioners emphasized that the natural resources and local livelihood in the area will be greatly affected. “We appeal to other government agencies to listen and support our call!”
According to Department of Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat, during an interview with Summit Media, her office was not consulted by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) regarding the Coron-Culion Inter-Island Bridge project.
She said that she has been always into sustainable and responsible tourism.
“I’ve always been pushing for sustainable tourism. Now with the DPWH project, I understand [that] they always have to ask all the different other agencies such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. It’s not like simply they can build, they have to ask first the local community if they’re okay with it. We were not asked,” the DOT chief said.
“But ako, generally, anything in tourism—I’m the one who’s been pushing for [less] carrying capacity; roads should not disturb the environment, it should protect the environment, it should preserve the tourist destination,” Romulo-Puyat stated.
Map showing the location of the three bridges that will connect islands from Coron to Culion.
The DPWH launched the P4.2 billion projects last March 6, 2021. It will connect Barangay Bintuan in Coron to Lusong and Marily islands in Culion. It will be a bridge that is over 20 kilometers under the Build, Build, Build (BBB) program of the national government.
The bridge construction will be affecting seven of the top underwater attractions in Coron and Culion namely Lusong Coral Gardens, Lusong Gunboat Shipwreck, Irako Shipwreck, Olympia Maru Shipwreck, Kogyo Maru Shipwreck, Morazan Maru Shipwreck, and Akitsushima Shipwreck” in Sangat Bay.
Six of these underwater sites are considered historical which are composed of Japanese World War II shipwrecks that dates back to September 24, 1944.
The petitioners also stressed that the heavy sedimentation, dredging, and construction of roads connecting islands to mainlands will destroy reefs and damage marine ecosystems.
“Heavy sedimentation from the construction will settle upon these fragile shipwrecks and potentially cause the collapse of these precious historical underwater sites. Nowhere else in the world will you find as beautifully preserved dive sites, in perfect conditions for SCUBA diving, snorkeling, and free diving”.
They further explained that that the coral gardens, a popular snorkeling destination among tourists due to its colorful and diverse shallow coral reefs are in “great danger” as it will be within kilometer proximity to the proposed interisland bridges that will be built.
Runoffs and silts can lead to “murky waters which means that the corals will be unable to receive sunlight critical for zooxanthellae (which provide corals their food and calcium carbonate to grow), and heavy sediments, dust, and soil can also settle on the corals and suffocate them”.
“Coral bleaching can also result and damaged the reefs not only in Lusong Coral Gardens but in the shipwrecks as well.”
The online petition targets 10,000 signatures after which the resulting letter may be delivered to the subject of the petition, usually via e-mail. (AI/MTVN)